By Anthony Baratta
Learn how to use Approval Workflows to automate your business processes and increase consistency and efficiency.
SharePoint has a variety of built-in workflows that you can use to make your enterprise more efficient. For instance, you can use workflows to collect signatures from various members of your team or to gather feedback on a specific in-progress document. Probably the most important and most-used workflow built into the SharePoint software, though, is the approval workflow. By standardizing approval workflows, you save time for other important tasks and all activity is automatically monitored with reminders and notifications.
Save time with SharePoint workflows
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SharePoint Solutions: What Is an Approval Workflow?
An approval workflow is more or less exactly what it sounds like. This workflow allows you to route a document or item through a series of designated teams or managers. The goal is to get multiple sets of eyes on an important document before it becomes available or published. In addition to document creation, you might also use approval workflows to handle expense reporting, deal with employee vacation day requests, and more.
Another example of the approval workflow process might be the creation of a contract. In such a case, you would use this process while drafting a new client contract to make sure that all the included terms were correct. Sending the contract through a chain of different people would help to reduce the likelihood of the contract going out to the client with errors or oversights.
Understanding the Benefits of an Approval Workflow
Above, we outlined one of the key advantages of an approval workflow: it helps catch errors or mistakes. This aspect of the approval workflow process is particularly necessary for contracts and other types of document creation. However, it is also key when using an approval process for anything pertaining to expenses, as well as many other critical business processes.
Of course, your business might already have a workflow policy in place for some of these processes. Maybe you have long observed a process where contracts are generated and then sent through a chain of managers and team leaders—whether via email, with a cloud-based service like Dropbox, or using actual printed copies.
The biggest advantage of SharePoint's approval workflow is how much more efficient and transparent it is than all those methods. First, everything is done digitally, which eliminates the waste of using paper copies. Second, everything is automatic, from who receives the document/item request to when they receive it. You can also set due dates for approvals and configure SharePoint to send reminders to team members who don't respond to approval requests right away. Lastly, since you can monitor where a document or item is at any time, it's easier to track how close an approval is to being granted.
All of these factors help to create a more transparent and easy-to-use system for approvals. With SharePoint, there's no chance of a key document getting misplaced or lost in the workflow pipeline. There's no need to send emails to a manager asking if they've had a chance to look at a document or expense sheet request yet. By automating everything, SharePoint removes the majority of the common pain points of approval processes.
How to Use Approval Workflows
In most instances, SharePoint will allow you to start an approval workflow anywhere in a list or library. You must have several different permissions to start a workflow. However, if you have those permissions, all you have to do is select the document or item that you want to make the subject of the workflow. Then, just click the "List" or "Library" tab, select the "Settings" group, click "Workflow Settings," and then click "Add a Workflow."
These steps will bring up a window where you can create and customize a new workflow. Here are a few of the questions you will have to answer (or the settings you will have to tweak) to make your new workflow do what you want it to do:
- What type of workflow do you want to use? In this case, the answer will be an "Approval" workflow.
- What do you want to call this particular workflow? Name your workflows after the processes they are meant to automate. For instance, you might have one for document creation, another for employee vacation requests, etc.
- When do you want to start the workflow? For example, you can activate a workflow whenever you create a new item or when a document is changed to submitted for publication approval.
- Who do you want to be the approvers? The second page of the workflow customization window lets you decide who to include on your team in the approval chain for this particular workflow.
SharePoint also lets you stipulate specific tasks for the approvers to complete, due dates for those tasks (or the duration that they have to complete the tasks), how to handle rejections for items or documents, and more.
Approval workflows are a good way to improve the efficiency with different kinds of processes within your enterprise. They are especially useful for ensuring quality control with documents and projects. Just make sure you are taking the time to create a detailed workflow plan. The better you are about outlining the specific details of each workflow, the more effective they will be at serving their specified functions.
Streamline business and save time by automating the steps behind some of your standard processes with SharePoint Workflows. When you want to learn more about configuring SharePoint solutions or how to utilize approval workflows to improve business efficiencies, please do not hesitate to connect with us. Call us at 510 652-7700 or schedule a free consultation.